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Final Paper, Fall 2012
Labor and the Global Market
The Most Interesting Title in the World
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in January of 2010, Haiti (already among the poorest nations in the western hemisphere) was left significantly more vulnerable and impoverished than ever before. With the partial or complete destruction of over 100,000 places of work came the loss of approximately 90,000 Haitian jobs,1 the regeneration of which continues to present significant challenges to the national government. This unemployment contributes not only to immediate hunger and homelessness, but also to a flight of industry and closing of businesses, worsening the unemployment and poverty problems in the long run. An emphasis on medical assistance, debris removal, and restoration of infrastructure has sidelined economic and social recovery.2 International NGOs have rapidly scaled up their operations in Haiti, including the importing of a significant number of foreign doctors and laborers. While this is assistance is necessary in the short term, sufficient consideration is not being given to the sustainability of newly built response structures. Power still rests in the hands of the international community, and the top-down administration of relief work is not responding effectively to the needs of the general population (particularly women and children). Haitian workers are being largely excluding from leadership or high-responsibility positions within NGO operations, contributing to a lack of organizational accountability.
Since the earthquake, decision-making power within the structure of international relief agencies working in Haiti has been almost exclusively limited to foreigners, and large international NGOs have generally elected not to work in collaboration with long-standing grassroots organizations. This ignores the directives and opinions of the existing local leadership, widening an existing communication gap between tactical needs and decision-making bodies. Those Haitians who have influence in the current command structure are generally those who were wealthy or influential before the earthquake, perpetuating a gap in power that leaves wide margins for abuse and neglect, particularly in the selective distribution of ration cards and other material aid.3 Haitian resentment towards international assistance, borne of five years of UN occupation and even longer standing military control with the help of the United States government, contributes to an inability for the concerns of the Haitian people to be voiced and of their needs to be met. The imbalance of this power structure manifests itself in a host of significant shortcomings in aid, particularly in refugee camps. A lack of toilets has allowed wealthy landowners to charge a fee for using freshly dug latrines on their land. Friends of those in charge of allocation of in-kind aid are given the first rations, while others are forced to stand in lines for days or risk missing distribution of food. An entire camp of thousands was displaced from their temporary homes to allow the children of wealthy bureaucrats to attend a private school. The success of the operations of NGOs and foreign government relief funds that do not incorporate local leadership is hindered by the fact that these organizations are held accountable not to the local community, but to donors and taxpayers. The Haitian people are not able to elicit repercussions for organizational failure, allowing for the perpetuation of ineffective programming, the inefficient distribution of financial and in-kind donations, and the continuation of systematic and hierarchal neglect of the impoverished majority.
Profoundly unfair labor relations and high unemployment predate the earthquake by decades. Haiti has a long history of colonial domination, and the existing government has been extremely dependent on...
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